So I’ve just returned from a week in Italy – Sienna, Lucca and Pisa since you ask and yes the weather was wonderful and yes, Italian men do sport brightly coloured trousers and ponytails without shame. I spent a lot of time shovelling pasta and ham so dark – no light could penetrate – into my mouth - while grabbing my dining companions and shouting: Oh my GOD you have to try this - hang on sorry, I've finished it. But in between my sweaty and piggy wanderings I noticed a few things.
Having been brought up a Catholic I find the gloomy theatricality of the religion both depressing and depressive – a constant attempt to romanticise misery. You only have to read about the lives of the saints as I did as a child to catch on pretty fast that the majority of female catholic saints were deeply disturbed young women or just barking mad. St Catherine of Sienna – anorexic who drank pus from the sores of a cancer patient. Yay! Let’s all copy that one girls. But – the churches in Italy are just staggeringly fabulous. Maybe their coolness and walls bursting with art are such a relief after the dazzling outdoor heat, but there is something so lush and loving about the curves and paint – it puts you under a spell. There’s no incense smell either – it’s more a soft orangey scent that permeates the churches. Signor Sheen probably but it’s deeply restful.
Italian families do this thing called the passeggiata which means they wander the streets in their best clothes taking up lots of room on the pavement and chattering. Then they all go out to eat and behold – the babies eat exactly the same food as the older family members. Not a breaded dinosaur shape in sight, just small children hovering up massive plates of pasta like tiny mop headed dust busters. The normality of this could also be down to the fact it’s illegal in Italy to serve deep fried food in school cafeterias.
So yes I loved Italy – even the Catholicism is sensuous and life affirming somehow. So coming back to this headline that girls as young as five are being treated for anorexia and are models to blame or celebrities or who is to blame – says the Daily Mail who love – oh how they love - to print pieces on why DO women hate their bodies? Gosh – I wonder too – and then you turn to the next page and it’s a picture of a woman who now looks older than she did thirty years ago. See? Isn’t that disgraceful? Next to the picture of the female celebrity with cellulite.
However, much as I’d love to see the DM go the way of the NoTW I sadly think that it comes down to us parents. All the distorted, airbrushed pictures of teeny tiny Cheryl Cole on her latest diet ‘to get Ashley back’ in the world are not going to have much of an effect if the child has a family life where food is not seen as The Enemy or has a massive amount of power – the power to make you feel shit because you ate A BISCUIT. This terrible mental illness seems to be a toxic stew of low self esteem, perfectionism, a desperate desire for some sort of control and a fundamental refusal to be an adult female because it seems so complicated and problematic with the curves and the flesh, blood sex and food.
And yet my own mother was on a diet for as long as I can remember. My sister and I would eat her wonderful homemade food while she picked on soups, shakes and on one occasion, what looked like a pile of twigs. She later said it was ‘The Cambridge Diet.’ And it worked for a while. As most diets do. Well wouldn’t anyone lose weight on a diet of twigs? She was reading something about Aktins when she had the accident that would kill her a few months later. So why didn’t my sister and I end up with food issues? Probably because we were both lucky enough to inherit a narrow frame, we ate very little processed food and we were both too greedy to diet anyway. And I mean greed in a good way. I loved the greed I saw in Italy – not the wretched tearing self hatred of being caught in a food compulsion, but proper licking bread wiping, dripping down the chin greed. Where you feel a teeny bit full after but a walk will sort that out and there’s a smile on your face. Really - that linguine with chilli prawns will stay in my heart forever.